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'This is the fun part': Adjustments, injuries creating drama in playoffs

You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you? The real dance and decision-making begins now for the Stars

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

What? You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you?

Not unlike winning the Iron Throne, winning the Stanley Cup takes pain, anguish and drama. So we're just getting started.

As hard as all of these twists and turns are for you at home on the couch (or screaming in Section 318), imagine what's going through the respective heads of the players and coaches. There was copious information gathered in Games 1 and 2 and the strategical minds of these two teams processed those numbers on Sunday.

It appears the Stars will pull Taylor Fedun and insert Jamie Oleksiak for Game 3. It makes sense. Fedun had a bad shift on the Predators' first goal, and finished the game with 6:50 in ice time. That's how these things go.

Fedun has been a fantastic soldier. The 30-year-old defenseman was acquired from Buffalo as sort of a stop gap when the Stars' defense was sorting through 14 different bodies earlier in the season. But he earned a spot and stuck, playing 54 games (the most in his six NHL seasons). It was a wonderful story, as the Princeton product played his first Stanley Cup playoff game, but wonderful stories often change in the post-season.

Now, it's Oleksiak's turn. The former Stars first-round draft pick was re-acquired to help that injured defense and has been in and out of the lineup since. But he played 12 playoff games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, so he might have a little edge in that department.

Either way, it's the decision-making that gives you something to talk about.

Video: Stars excited for playoff atmosphere at home

"Moving pieces in and out of the lineup … you don't like bringing people out, but you do like looking at why someone would give us more of an advantage," Stars coach Jim Montgomery said.

And Montgomery -- in his first year as head coach -- has some decisions to make.

In addition to pondering just what might work best on defense, he also could tweak his forward spot. One, Mattias Janmark got banged up in the last game and didn't skate Monday morning, so he could come out (although he is expected to skate before the game and will likely play). Two, the Stars went 0-for-6 on the power play and got roasted (winning 41 percent) in the faceoff circle in Game 2.

Jason Spezza was one of the team's best power-play players during the regular season (fourth on the team with 12 power-play points) and also led the NHL in faceoff winning percentage at 58.2 percent. Sooooo, it might follow that he could be a player who could help the Stars.

That's something that fans can discuss, and something that the coaching staff will be judged on going forward.

That, too, is part of the fun of the playoffs.

The power play has had any number of incarnations during the season, so Stars coaches have a lot of options in trying to fix things. Should they put Tyler Seguin back in the left circle? Should they rely on Miro Heiskanen to replace John Klingberg on the top unit? Should they balance things out by bringing Spezza back in?

Will it simply be better because the Stars are home ice -- or because the best players feel challenged.

"The first unit ... the so-called first unit ... has struggled a little bit," captain Jamie Benn said. "But I thought the other unit has been moving the puck around real well and getting their opportunity, and it's that's great. It's up to us on the other unit to step up and try to create and make a big difference in the hockey game."

Video: Five things to know about the defensive Dallas Stars

So even within the team, there is competition. That's also part of the fun.

Nashville's changes have been somewhat forced due to injuries.

Brian Boyle missed Game 2 because of illness (appendix), and Rocco Grimaldi came in and was a difference-maker, playing a role in both goals in a 2-1 OT win in Game 2. Now, with Wayne Simmonds out, Mikka Salomaki will get a chance to come in and try his hand at being a playoff hero.

That's what happens in the postseason. That's why you watch. That's the drama.

The Stars come home Monday -- a place where they were 24-14-3 (compared to 19-18-4 on the road), a place where they scored 2.85 goals per game (compared to 2.24 on the road), a place where they allowed 2.24 goals per game (compared to 2.63 on the road). The numbers say they should be better, the numbers say it should matter that this is now a best of five series where the Stars have three games at AAC.

The numbers can be tricky.

All we can really guarantee is there will be drama, and we're not even close to the end of this television series.

"To me, this is the fun part," Montgomery said. "I thought they did a better job than we did from Game 1 to Game 2, and we have to step up our game, and make sure our team is executing better tonight."

 

Game 3: Dallas Stars vs. Nashville Predators

Where: American Airlines Center
When: Tonight, 8:30 p.m.
TV: Fox Sports Southwest, NBCSN
Radio: The Ticket 1310-AM/96.7-FM

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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